It is mid-morning. No dew. No chirping birds. Just the vrooms from vehicles and the screaming of running kids. Or mothers shouting at their children lost in play. Or fathers already singing praises about women bosoms from the drunk dens.
I am seated at the edge of a vast field where, sometimes, I come to watch other kids play. Banta. Kati. Rounders. Brikicho. Circle. Dance. Ball games.
Today, unlike other mornings, I didn’t accompany the other children to the stream. I heard mother’s voice calling for me. I know I will be whipped when and if I finally get back to the house. She will send me to fetch my own cane. But it will be too thin and fragile. So, she will pull one from behind the cupboard; one that is thicker than my whole body.
Today, I am too weak from the teasing of my friends whenever I fail to understand their jokes, or whenever I stammer every time they ask me to spell my name. I am too weak to withstand the shame that comes after I pee in my pants, because they keep threatening to tear up my clothes.
Today, my heart is too weak to withstand the loud beats I subject it to, whenever my ‘friends’ ask about the dark circles under my eyes. Or the scratches on my back. Or my absence from school.
I am tired. I have run out of lies to feed them. They have started poking holes at my stories.
Today, I want to think about life.
Yes, I am eight years old, yet I have been forced to grow up, to a point I am seeking answers to questions I have no idea how they found themselves in my head.
I am eight years old. But I have to defend my age even at school, because the burden on my shoulders is visible in my eyes.
Today, I want to be a child like everyone else. I want to play without glancing over my shoulder. I want to run around with my kite, without fear that the wind would suddenly stop and make me a laughing stalk. I want to skip the ropes with nothing else in my mind, waiting for the hunger to set in and lead me home.
I want to be an eight year old, only thinking of food, play and rest.
There is a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turn around and my eyes meet Jairo. I don’t know how long he has been here, but the look in his eyes says he knows more than I can think he does.
“It is okay. You will be fine. I do not know when, but you definitely will,” he says.
“You are nine years old. How do you know that?”
“Because I have been here long enough to know that things come and go.”
He is a child. I am too. But I know we both have seen and experienced more than we should have.
Tonight, they will hit my head, for the fourteenth time, with a blunt object. I will weep. I will bleed. But just before I pass out, I will see Jairo. And that is all I am holding onto.